Talking Back to the New York Times

Screencasting programs are most often used to explain how to use a computer program or a Website, but they can also be used for other purposes. A few years ago, The New York Times published an article describing how the digital divide -- the divide between those who have access to technology and those who don't -- was no longer a major concern. I work in a public library, and that article was some of the best fiction I'd read in a long time. Almost nothing in the article was true, and I needed a way to tell this to the author of the article, as well as the rest of the Internet.

So I fired up Camtasia Studio, an excellent screencasting program, and reached for my guitar. With the help of a public-domain melody -- an old folk song titled, “Whiskey in the Jar” -- I created a short multimedia piece that explained my reaction to this article. I used a screengrab from the article itself as the background of the piece.

I uploaded the presentation to the Internet Archive, which provides free Web hosting for media files. And then I went looking for the e-mail address of the author of the article. His e-mail address was nowhere to be found. The author of an article about the digital divide was not reachable by e-mail. Imagine the irony of that. So I sent a link to the piece to a tech reporter at The New York Times and asked that reporter (based in San Francisco) to forward the link to the author of the article.

Interested in seeing that presentation? Here it is.

I changed the title of the song from “Whiskey in a Jar” to “Whiskey in Your Jar.” You can think about why I did that.

In the age of Twitter, the link to this screencast can rapidly bounce around the Internet. It's entirely possible to talk back to the New York Times – and in a way far more powerful and more authentic than a polite letter to the editor. And sometimes it's for the newspapers' own benefit that people talk back to them.


When I was not able to reach the author of that article about the digital divide, some friends and I made this spoof YouTube video to share some thoughts about how clueless newspapers are in the new age. This video is a panel discussion where I serve as the panel moderator and as all four panelguests, in the style of a Saturday Night Live skit. Back in 2007, this video was chosen as a YouTube Editor's Choice.

Cheeky? Yes. Truthful? Probably so. Someone I know who works at the New York Times told me I was not far off the mark with this video.

Phil Shapiro

The blogger is an educator and community builder in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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